The Environmental Working Group has released its annual Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticide residue, even after being washed. The list is collated from the more than 40,000 fruit and vegetable samples that are annually tested by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture. For the sixth year in a row, strawberries top the 2021 list. Government test data found that 90% of strawberries remained contaminated with at least one pesticide, while 30% of strawberries tested contained 10 or more pesticides. In second place this year was spinach, which contained more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested and with three quarters of samples contaminated with a neurotoxic, European-banned bug killer.
Other notable findings on the list included that kale and other greens tested positive for Dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate, a possible carcinogen. Another suspected carcinogen, diphenylamine, was found on apples which came in fifth on this year’s list. Diphenylamine is a pesticide that has been linked to stomach and esophageal cancers and is banned in Europe as well. Bell and hot peppers were tested for the first time since 2012, and found to be contaminated with upwards of 115 pesticides. And this year, the EWG did its own testing on citrus fruits and discovered contamination with a fungicide linked to cancer and hormone disruption on nearly 90% of all the oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and lemons
While it is always good to be aware of what we’re putting in our bodies, before we give up our fruits and vegetables, it is important to understand that reports from the US Department of Agriculture consistently indicate that when pesticide residues are found on foods, they are almost always within the USDA’s tolerance limits for human beings. Moreover, conventional experts widely agree that, even with concern for the effects of pesticides, fruits and vegetables remain an important part of a daily diet. And it’s not all bad news. The EWG also publishes a “Clean 15” list that includes items like avocado, papaya, peas, onions, pineapple, broccoli, mushrooms and other favorites. Still, it is important to understand what’s on our food so we can take steps to minimize our intake of potentially harmful chemicals. Buying organic, if possible, and thorough washing of fruits and vegetables can help ameliorate our risk from the more pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables we regularly consume.